Security

Houthi mines, supplied by Iran, threaten international navigation in Red Sea

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi

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Yemeni fishermen July 12 gather by their boats as they return from fishing in the Red Sea coastal Khokha district of Yemen's western province of al-Hodeidah. Houthi-placed naval mines have halted fishing activity in some areas, say Yemeni officials. [Khaled Ziad/AFP]

ADEN -- The Houthi militia in Yemen continues to threaten international navigation in the Red Sea and beyond by laying Iranian-made mines in waters off the coast.

The Saudi-backed coalition supporting the Yemeni government on July 30 announced its forces had thwarted an attempted drone attack on a Saudi commercial vessel in the southern Red Sea.

Meanwhile, joint forces on the western coast of Yemen dismantled two networks of naval mines in June in the Red Sea and Bab al-Mandeb Strait -- which connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden and is a vital global energy gateway.

Engineering teams said on June 17 that they discovered and dismantled two missile warheads and dozens of mines and explosive devices planted by Houthi forces in the coastal area of al-Durayhimi district, south of the city of al-Hodeidah.

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A picture taken on August 10, 2018, during a trip in Yemen organised by the UAE's National Media Council (NMC) shows a view of Yemeni fishing boats along the Yemeni side of the strategic strait of Bab al-Mandeb, which separates the Arabian Peninsula from East Africa. [Karim Sahib/AFP]

Earlier on June 7, joint forces also discovered a network of maritime mines south of the Great Hanish Islands in the southern Red Sea, near Bab al-Mandeb.

The Houthi militia laid the network of mines, which the joint forces discovered offshore from the city of Khokh, said a security source, adding that the mines were anchored to the bottom of the sea 450m from the shore.

Iranian weapons

The Houthis planted the Iranian-made naval mines, using training provided by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), said Yemeni Deputy Minister of Human Rights Nabil Abdul Hafeez.

Iran seeks to use the naval mine networks "to threaten, influence and impact international navigation in the Red Sea, the Strait of Bab al-Mandeb and the global economy", he said.

The engineering teams of the joint forces said the number of mines is very high, and that the Houthis laid them in a precise manner that points to the involvement of Iran and the IRGC either directly or indirectly, he added.

In a January 25 report to the United Nations (UN) Security Council, a panel of experts detailed an "increasing body of evidence" that Iran is supplying "significant volumes of weapons and components to the Houthis".

"There is information indicating that mines are being laid at this time around the [FSO] Safer tanker," Abdul Hafeez said, referring to a decaying floating storage tanker off Yemen's western coast that contains 1.1 million barrels of crude oil.

The vessel "hasn't had maintenance performed on it in four years, and this portends a disaster in the event of a leakage, and a major catastrophe... if it explodes", he said.

Solutions are available and the technologies to solve the "ticking time bomb" are known, yet the Houthis demand money for any access to the storage tanker and are using it as a political bargaining chip, officials say.

The Houthis are continuing to lay mines despite peace initiatives backed by the US and UN envoys, Abdul Hafeez said, adding that this reflects their "lack of seriousness about peace."

International threat

"The threat of maritime mines is a direct Iranian threat to international navigation, the global economy and the livelihoods and lives of Yemeni fishermen," said economist Abdul Aziz Thabet.

The maritime mines laid by the Houthi militia have killed dozens of fishermen on the west coast, he said.

Reports of mines have brought fishing activity to a halt in many coastal areas whose residents rely solely on fishing for their livelihoods, he added.

"These mines are the IRGC's most important weapons, and the purpose of laying them is to threaten international navigation, and at the same time blackmail the international community," said political analyst Mahmoud al-Taher.

The mines are aimed at "inundating the international shipping lane... to detonate them in the event that coalition forces move to liberate al-Hodeidah", he said.

Al-Taher stressed the need for an international effort in co-operation with the Yemeni government and the Arab coalition to search for and neutralise the mines.

"This is in addition to the international community exerting various types of pressures to force the Houthis and Iran behind them to stop laying mines and desist from threatening international interests and to force them to move towards peace," he said.

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